When Fear Begins

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I am blessed with a five month old son. I am also fortunate to have a 22″ deep soaking tub. This is an Olympic sized pool for an infant. When Son was first born we would get in the bath together. I would clean him and he would float around in my arms, and seemed completely unphased by the experience, even cozy. I held him on his back and he would float in the water with my support. Eventually as he was able to hold up his head, I’d hold him under his chest and he’d kick his feet as I sailed him around the tub. He’d chase down the “temperature turtle” water thermometer this way, and immediately put it in his mouth, as is the fate of anything he can get his hands on at this point in his life. Recently he’s discovered the joy of splashing.

The discovery of splashing has been part and parcel of his discovery of the world around him. Within the last month it’s like a switch was flipped, and he is engaging in everything he can see, touch, taste, hear and otherwise experience. He watches the cats walk by and tries to grab them (and put them in his mouth). He grabs for his toys (and puts them in his mouth). He found his toes (and..you know.) He’s also trying out all sorts of new noises.

I noticed today however, something I’ve had a growing suspicion of. It was much more pronounced today. He’s developing fear along side curiosity. He is now very anxious about floating on his back, despite the support. He held his head above the water as much as he could, scrunching his little ab muscles and clenching his tiny fists. He furrowed his brow and closed up his eyes and mouth. Sure, he’d gotten water on his face in the past, but it was never more than a splash–there were no tears, and in fact he’d laugh if he ended up sneezing. He had felt so comfortable and confident that he was almost floating on his own.

As his sense of “me” versus “not me” develops, his external expansion into the environment is hand in hand with an internal contraction, even without provocation. I’m surprised by this development because I assumed that if he was comfortable then, he would be comfortable now. There has been no negative experience to change his mind. Exposure was experience, and it had been all positive. Yet he developed a fear of something he had been doing regularly since he was born.

It really is a fascinating window into how the imaginary prisons we build for ourselves can develop. I found myself reassuring him, “Relax! The more uptight and anxious you are about it, the harder it will be to float!” Five months old and he’s already teaching momma by example. With lots of smiles and support he did calm down…but still not to the point he was as a newborn. Perhaps this will pass as he learns to trust himself. His momma certainly has his back on this one 🙂

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